Short summary - Les Liaisons dangereuses - Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Les Liaisons dangereuses
Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

The events described in the letters that make up the narrative outline fit into a short period of time: August - December 17 ... But for such a short period of time, from the correspondence of the main characters, we comprehend their philosophy of life.
Quite a long relationship connects de Valmont, the protagonist, with his correspondent, Madame de Merteil. She is witty, charming and no less experienced in dealing with the opposite sex than he is. So, at the beginning of the story from a letter from the Marquise de Merteuil from Paris, addressed to the Viscount de Valmont, who lives in the castle at Aunt de Rosemond in the summer, we learn about her insidious intrigue. The Marquis, wishing to take revenge on her lover, Count Gercourt, who abandoned her, invites Valmont to seduce the Count's future bride, fifteen-year-old Cecilia Volange, a pupil of the monastery, whose income is sixty thousand livres. But the viscount refuses this tempting offer, since he is carried away by the president de Tourvel and does not intend to stop halfway, since this lady, a virtuous wife, is much more attractive to Valmont and the victory over her will bring him incomparably more pleasure than seducing a boarder. Madame de Tourvel, modest and pious, having heard about Valmont's countless novels, from the very beginning accepts the courtship of a secular lion with apprehension and distrust. But the cunning womanizer still manages to win over the hard-to-reach. Having discovered that the president's servant, at the request of his mistress, is watching him, he uses this to his advantage. Choosing the right moment, in front of the amazed crowd, among which, of course, there is a servant, the viscount saves the poor man's family from ruin, generously endowing it with a large sum of money. The shocked servant reports what he saw to the mistress, and Valmont's calculation turns out to be correct, since on the same evening de Tourvel gives the viscount a gentle look, appreciating his kindness, but nevertheless wondering how profligacy and nobility coexist in him. The Viscount continues the offensive and bombards Madame de Tourvel with letters filled with tenderness and love, while gladly retelling their content to the Marquise de Merteuil, who is extremely unhappy with this hobby of his and insistently advises to abandon this extravagant undertaking. But Valmont is already carried away by the pursuit of the intoxication that condescends to a person when there are only two left in the whole world - he and his love. This state, of course, cannot last forever, but when it comes, it is incomparable with anything. Valmont seeks precisely these sensations - he is a womanizer, he is a libertine, he has many victories on his account, but only because he wants to experience deeper feelings. Starting to drag himself after the judge's excessively bashful wife, the “divine saint” Madame de Tourvelle, the Viscount does not assume that, ironically, this is exactly the woman he has been looking for all his life.
Meanwhile, we learn the story of young lovers, Cecilia Volange and the beau Dunsany, who became involved in the intrigues of Valmont and Merteuil. Dunsany, a music teacher who gives Cecilia singing lessons, falls in love with a girl and, not without reason, hopes for reciprocity. The Marquis de Merteuil is watching with interest the education of the senses of two young people. Cecilia is fascinated by this woman and in frank conversations confides in her all her secrets, showing the first impulses of an inexperienced heart. The marquise is interested in the marriage of Cecilia and the Comte de Gercourt not to take place, so she in every possible way encourages this suddenly flared up feeling. It is the Marquise who arranges for the young to date alone, driving Madame Volange out of the house under various plausible pretexts. But the clever pimp is dissatisfied with the slowness of Dunsany, she expects more decisive actions from him, so she turns to Valmont with a request to take care of the inexperienced handsome man and teach him the science of love.
In one of her letters, Madame de Merteuil sets out her history and her life rules. The magnificent de Merteil is a woman who was able to win her place in the high society of the French monarchy thanks to her appearance, audacity and wit. From a young age, she listens carefully to everything that they want to hide from her. This curiosity taught the marquis the art of pretense, and the true way of her thoughts became only her secret, while people were shown only what was beneficial. After the death of her husband, the widow leaves for the village for a year, and at the end of the mourning she returns to the capital. First of all, she cares about being known as invincible, but she achieves this in a very original way. The deceiver accepts the courtship of only those men who are indifferent to her, therefore, it does not cost her any trouble to resist unlucky admirers; to numerous lovers, in front of whom the Marquise pretends to be modest, she forbids showing attention to her in public, therefore in society she has a reputation as a woman inaccessible and pious. Madame de Merteuil admits in a letter to Valmont that he was the only one of her hobbies, which for a moment gained power over her, but at the moment she enters into a game with de Prevan, a man who publicly declared his intention to conquer the "proud woman" ... The reprisal against the impudent followed immediately. A few days later, the Marquis, with pleasure savoring the details and celebrating the victory, describes this adventure to Valmont. The temptress graciously accepts Prevan's advances and encourages him by inviting him to her dinner party. After the card game, all the guests go home, while Prevan, by agreement with the marquise, hides on a secret staircase, and at midnight enters her boudoir. As soon as he finds himself in the arms of the charming woman, she, with all her might, begins to call, calling the servants to witness. After this scandal, Prevan was dismissed from the unit in which he served, and was stripped of his officer rank, and the marquise did not allow, thus, to doubt his piety.
Valmont, meanwhile, wanting to check what impression his departure will make on Madame de Tourvel, leaves the castle for a while. He continues to ardently declare his love, and de Tourvelle, upset by the departure of the viscount, realizes that she is in love. She, frightened by her feelings, tries to overcome them, but it turns out to be beyond her power. As soon as Valmont notices a change in his tender saint, he immediately shows interest in young Volange, paying attention to the fact that she is very pretty and to fall in love with her, like Dunsany, would be foolish, but not having fun with her is no less foolish. Moreover, the baby needs comfort. The Marquise de Merteuil, annoyed by Dunsany's slowness, finds a way to stir him up. She believes that he needs obstacles in love, for happiness puts him to sleep. Therefore, she tells Madame Volange about her daughter's correspondence with Dunsany and about the dangerous connection between them. The angry mother sends Cecilia from Paris to the castle, and the young people suspect the servant of betrayal. The Marquise asks de Valmont to mediate between the lovers and their advisor. Soon, Valmont wins the trust of the inexperienced Cecilia, convincing her of his loyalty and friendship. In a letter to the Marquise, our hero-lover describes his next victory. He does not have to come up with any ways to seduce Cecilia, he gets into the girl's bedroom at night and does not get rebuffed. Moreover, soon the Marquise writes in response to Valmont how good Dunsany's ardent lover is. So, young lovers receive their first sensual lessons in the beds of our protagonists, showing their true innocence with her curiosity and bashfulness.
In one of the letters, Valmont complains to the Marquise about Madame de Tourvelle. He was sure that she was completely in his power, but her unexpected departure, which the viscount regards as an escape, confused all his cards. He is at a loss: what kind of fate binds him to this woman, because there are hundreds of others eager for his attention, but now there is neither happiness nor peace, and he has one goal - to possess Madame de Tourvel, whom he also ardently hates, as he loves. Finding herself at home with a beautiful hermit (she has not received anyone since her return to Paris), the Viscount conquers this touchy. He is on top of bliss. Vows of eternal love, tears of happiness - all this is described in a letter to the Marquis, to whom he reminds of the bet (if he manages to seduce de Tourvel, then the Marquis will give him a night of love) and is already eagerly awaiting the promised reward. For three months he sought Madame de Tourvelle, but if his mind was occupied with her, does this mean that the heart is also enslaved? Valmont himself evades the answer, he is frightened of true feelings and abandons his beloved. With this, he inflicts a mortal wound on her, and she hides in the monastery, where two weeks later she dies of grief.
Valmont, having learned from the maid that the mistress went to the monastery, again turns to the Marquis with a request for a meeting. But Mertey spends all his time with Dunsany and refuses to accept Valmont. He is insulted and declares war on his former friend. The Viscount sends Dunsany a letter in which he reminds the young man of the existence of Cecilia, eager for attention and love and ready to meet him that night, that is, Dunsany must make a choice between coquetry and love, between pleasure and happiness. Dunsany, without warning the Marquis that their night date is canceled, meets with his young lover. The Marquise enrages, having received a note from Valmont upon awakening: "Well, how do you find the joys of the past night? .." and comes up with a way to cruelly revenge on him. She shows Dunsany's note and convinces him to challenge the viscount to a duel. Valmont dies, but before he dies, he opens Dunsany's eyes to the Marquis de Merteuil, showing many letters, testifying to the regular correspondence between them. In them, she tells about herself, moreover in the most shameless way, scandalous stories. Dunsany makes no secret of this. Therefore, soon the Marquise has to endure a cruel scene. In the theater, she finds herself alone in her box, although there were always many admirers next to her, after the performance, going out into the foyer, she was booed by the men present; the bowl of her humiliation is overflowing when Monsieur de Prévan, who has not appeared anywhere after his adventure, enters the foyer, where everyone joyfully welcomes him. There is no doubt that in the future both his position and rank will be returned to him.
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Marquise, having been ill with smallpox, turns out to be terribly disfigured, and one of her acquaintances utters a phrase, picked up by everyone: "The disease turned her inside out, and now her soul is on her face." She flees to Holland, taking with her a very large amount of diamonds, which were to be returned to her husband's inheritance. Cecilia Volange, having learned about the death of de Tourvelle and Valmont and about the shame of the Marquis, goes to the monastery and takes the vow of a novice. Dunsany leaves Paris and goes to Malta, where he intends to stay forever and live away from the world.